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Rock Creek (DC) Deer: Friends of Animals on the Record

November 02, 2009 | Deer

The U.S. government has proposed to intrude, with weapons and chemicals, on yet another group of deer on public lands. They are required to adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") when proposing such action, and countering their proposed must be done also under the NEPA.

It is unreasonable to kill deer or other free-living animals for eating the plants that sustain them after we have fragmented their habitat. Great thanks to our members for supporting our work, so that we are able to push back, defending this community of deer and by extension all animals affected by the government's proposal to control them, as well as the peace and safety of the surrounding community.

Friends of Animals submitted comments to the U.S. National Park Service for the official record on 2 November 2009. Friends of Animals and the specific signatories to this statement strongly support "Alternative A: no action" against the deer in Rock Creek Park.

The "too many of them" claim everywhere paves the way for the domination and control of free-roaming animals "“ first predators, then the prey. Friends of Animals would like to call upon the community to raise its collective voice against shooting and pharmaceutical control of free-living animals.

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Comment for the official record, on the White-Tailed Deer Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement ("Plan/EIS") for Rock Creek Park.
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Date: 2 November 2009

From:

Dustin Rhodes (Washington, DC), Capital Correspondent, Friends of Animals
Lee Hall, JD (PA), Legal Director for Friends of Animals

To:

National Park Service
Adrienne A. Coleman, Superintendent

We submit this letter on behalf of Friends of Animals ("FoA") and its members. FoA is a non-profit, international advocacy organization incorporated in New York in 1957, with its principal place of business in Darien, Connecticut. FoA seeks to free animals from cruelty and exploitation around the world, and to promote a respectful view of free-living and domestic animals. FoA engages in a variety of advocacy programs in support of these goals. FoA has a longstanding interest in advocating for the dignity and interests of deer and other animals in biocommunities that include deer.

Dustin Rhodes also submits these comments this letter as a Washington, D.C. resident and frequent visitor of Rock Creek Park ("Rock Creek").

Rock Creek is a haven in the heart of Washington, D.C. -- a national park nestled in a densely populated urban setting. In the words of the National Park Service ("NPS"), "Rock Creek Park is truly a gem in our nation's capital. It offers visitors an opportunity to reflect and soothe their spirits through the beauty of nature. Fresh air, majestic trees, wild animals, and the ebb and flow of Rock Creek emanate the delicate aura of the forest."

This delicate aura, and specifically the wild animals contributing to it, is in danger.

The park's lands are fragmented; firearms are especially unlikely to be appropriate or safe in such an oddly shaped, highly urban park. Residential and commercial areas of Washington, D.C. and Maryland surround all of the park units. Over 1,100 homes and apartments abut the park units along 72 sprawling miles of the park boundary. The largest of the 99 reservations, Rock Creek Park (Reservation 339), consists of 1,754 acres of Rock Creek and the surrounding valley from the Maryland state line south to the National Zoological Park.

As required by the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), the NPS has recently proposed a deer management plan for Rock Creek. The goal, as presented at a recent public meeting, is to develop a strategy that supports long-term protection, preservation and restoration of native vegetation and other natural and cultural resources. The plan considers four alternatives:

• Alternative A: No action. Under this option, NPS would not shoot the deer or introduce contraceptive substances to the population. This would, however, allow for the strategic use of fencing and green corridors, which, when combined with native, deterrent plants, could respectfully control the deer population.

• Alternative B: Combined "non-lethal" actions. This option calls for the use of fencing and reproductive control.

• Alternative C: Combined lethal actions. This option calls for the use of sharpshooters, and, in the words of the NPS, "capture and euthanasia." The latter term refers to a systematic slaughter of the deer population.

• Alternative D: Combined lethal and "non-lethal" actions. This option combines the unnatural method of pharmaceutical reproductive control and sharpshooting.

The proposed plan and its consideration of alternatives violate both NEPA and the Organic Act. Under NEPA, the NPS failed to consider an adequate array of alternatives and failed to perform an adequate impact analysis. As for the Organic Act, the NPS failed to comply with Rock Creek's enabling legislation.

NEPA

NEPA sets forth broad principles and goals for the nation's environmental policy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 "“ 4370a. It serves as "the continuing policy of the Federal Government to use all practicable means and measures . . . to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony." 42 U.S.C. § 4331(a).

Alternative Analysis

In furtherance of that goal, NEPA requires all federal agencies to analyze the environmental impact of a major federal action before proceeding with that action. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C)(ii). In this case, one of the primary alternatives considered "“ reproductive control "“ is fundamentally unacceptable.

No contraceptive has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use on deer in the United States. Testing of such contraceptives has yielded extremely harmful results. These have included "immunological castration, compromised libido and abnormal antler development."[1] Abscesses, inflammation, pain, reduced fat content in bone are some of the side effects observed in other studies. Not only have there been documented health effects, but controlling the fertility of free-ranging animals is physically intrusive and can alter the social structure of the entire group.

At the September 2, 2009 park meeting, the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups promoted the use of contraceptives on deer. However, they did not address the potential impact that the introduction of contraceptive substances could have on the environment and the natural food web. In addition, they did not consider how the dramatic reduction in the number of deer could catalyze changes in other wildlife.

Moreover, to use the park's deer experimentally is contrary to the goals of the Plan/EIS. For example, experimental fertility control has been known to prolong the lifespan of the Assateague Island mares from six to twenty years due to the elimination of the biological stress of reproduction. Thus, working against the logic of reducing numbers, reproductive control is likely to enable a current population of free-roaming animals to live longer.

As birth control is an unviable alternative, the NPS failed to provide a clear basis for choice among the alternatives and effectively limited the viable alternatives to two extremes: fencing and shooting. By including reproductive control as a viable option, the NPS has artificially inflated its range of alternatives.

Impact Analysis

The NPS has also failed to properly analyze the impact of the proposed plan. First, the plan falls short of accounting for the health and safety of park users and area residents. Rock Creek's urban location, combined with rifle bullets' capacity to travel three miles, makes the introduction of sharpshooters an unacceptable risk to human safety. Additionally, Rock Creek's boundaries are fragmented by the surrounding city and its borders are enclosed, as indicated above, by 1,100 homes and apartments. The park's unique geometry would make it impossible to find a suitable shooting range. One cannot help but wonder how the NPS can view sharpshooting as a safe alternative in an area it describes as "an oasis for urban dwellers . . . located in the heart of a densely populated cosmopolitan area." See Plan/EIS at 11.

Second, the plan will have an extremely negative impact on the perception of NPS conservation. Introducing a counterintuitive conservation method (slaughtering deer in an effort to preserve nature) would bewilder those citizens who witness it. Rock Creek, however, is a park unit that will attract not only local residents, but also visitors from around the world. The public perception of NPS conservation would be extremely skewed if visitors based their judgment on this highly visible park's deer management policy.

Third, sharpshooting would be ineffective at achieving the goals of the NPS. Killing deer will not protect local gardeners' azaleas from disoriented deer looking for a safe spot to eat. Nor will it stop cars from crashing into deer in icy midwinter. If the park's plan were to be accepted, frightened deer will inevitably scatter, in attempts to avoid the danger posed by sharpshooters. Additionally, after the deer are slaughtered and removed from the park, the population, following their nature, will rebound with extra fawns in spring. It is unreasonable to kill deer or other wildlife for eating the plants that sustain them "“ especially after officials have so fragmented their habitat with parking lots, roadways, running, hiking and biking trails.

The Organic Act, Rock Creek's enabling legislation, and National Park Service management policies

This Plan/EIS is inconsistent with the Organic Act, the Park's enabling legislation, and NPS management policies. The Organic Act requires the NPS to manage its lands "for one fundamental purpose. . . to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." 16 U.S.C. § 1. The NPS "is to afford the highest standard of protection and care to the natural resources within"¦the National Park System." S. Rep. No. 95-528, at 14 (1977). The Organic Act forbids the NPS from allowing any activity that will cause "derogation of the values and the purposes for which [the area has] been established." 16 U.S.C. § 1a-1.

Shooting free-living white-tailed deer in a national park, such as Rock Creek, does not conform to the fundamental purpose of conserving wildlife within federal parks. Similarly, the impermissible use of hypothetical birth control within the herd is an activity fundamentally out of line with the NPS's mission to protect and conserve the natural resources of a park. Administering birth control and shooting deer in a National Park is a derogation of the values and the purposes for which Rock Creek has been established and is therefore a clear violation of the Organic Act.

Rock Creek's enabling legislation, states the Plan/EIS, created "a public park and pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States" and further observes that in the park's establishment, Congress promulgated regulations "providing for the prevention from injury or spoliation of all timber, animals or curiosities within said park, and their retention in their natural condition, as nearly as possible."

Using firearms and chemically engineered birth control is clearly not preventing animals from "injury or spoliation"; nor is it consistent with Congress's charge to retain the animals in their "natural condition."

While the NPS has the authority to manage the wildlife in its parks, the taking, feeding, touching, and harassing of wildlife is prohibited. As to whether hunting, fishing, or trapping is allowed within the park, each national park is guided by its own enabling legislation. If the enabling legislation does not specifically allow for these activities, they are prohibited on NPS lands. The Rock Creek enabling legislation does not specifically allow for hunting, fishing or trapping; thus, it is prohibited within the park. However, hunting and trapping is exactly what the plan proposes.

In January 2009, a study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made headlines worldwide. The study found that this type of management is not only detrimental to the deer slaughtered, but also to the surviving population, for the more highly controlled the environment, the lower the genetic diversity. These changes make no evolutionary sense and ultimately threaten the viability of a species.

Conclusion

The deer population in a given amount of space tends to rise in concentrated green areas (yet, obviously, be lowered on actual sites of construction) due to gardening practices, construction and a lack of respect for or dearth of natural predators such as coyotes. The deer then balance their own numbers (even by absorption of the embryo, if necessary) as they cannot exceed the food and foliage that provides needed shelter and sustenance. To co-exist with animals in a park we should enjoy the presence of its fresh air, majestic trees, and wild animals -- and we must also act respectfully. Human factors that can be altered must be given attention, or the calls of "too many deer" and the pressure to shoot at them when they are deemed inconvenient will be cyclical.

Environmental degradation to the park has taken place over many years and is also impacted by previous, deliberate removals of natural vegetation, by vehicle exhaust, construction, and the activity of human residents and other factors. The government's proposal is not an environmental fix so much as a plan of convenience, demonstrating a poverty of innovation needed to advance ecologically respectful policy. Killing deer is not the answer.

We must work diligently to foster respect for indigenous animals where they survive, and keep the biocommunity in the balance it evolved to maintain. And where we've made mistakes, we should resolve not to condone still worse ones. Alternative A, no action against these deer, is the right thing to promote. No shooting and no pharmaceutical control. The "too many of them" claim everywhere paves the way for the domination and control of free-roaming animals "“ first predators, then the prey. It's extremely disingenuous to kill and foist lab-created fertility control vaccines on members of the natural community and claim to save that community as a whole.

The NPS's plan is extreme, short-sighted and severe. It does not reflect the careful reasoning required by NEPA, nor does it further the purpose set out by Congress upon the establishment of Rock Creek. The NPS should reconsider the options available and take a hard look at the real and significant consequences that will result from its proposed and favored action. Friends of Animals and the specific signatories to this statement strongly support "Alternative A: no action" on the deer in Rock Creek Park.

Sincerely,

Dustin Rhodes, Capital Correspondent, Friends of Animals
Contact: dustin[AT]friendsofanimals.org

Lee Hall, JD, Legal Director, Friends of Animals
Contact: leehall[AT]friendsofanimals.org

Friends of Animals National Headquarters: 777 Post Rd, Suite 205, Darien, CT 06820 www.friendsofanimals.org

REFERENCES

Paul D. Curtis et al., "Pathophysiology of White-tailed Deer Vaccinated With Porcine Zona Pellucida Immunocontraceptive" - Vaccine (Vol. 25, 11 April 2007); at pages 4623"“4630.

Gary J. Killian and Lowell A. Miller, "Behavioral Observations and Physiological Implications for White-Tailed Deer Treated With Two Different Immunocontraceptives" - USDA: APHIS 2001; available: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/01pubs/01-36....

Chris T. Darimont et al., " Human Predators Outpace Other Agents of Trait Change in the Wild" - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (12 Jan. 2009). Edited by Gretchen C. Daily, Stanford University; abstract and link to full text available: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/12/0809235106.

Cornelia Dean, "Research Ties Human Acts to Harmful Rates of Species Evolution" - New York Times (12 Jan. 2009); available: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/science/13fish.html?_r=1. For related information see Lily Huang, "It's Survival of the Weak and Scrawny: Researchers see 'evolution in reverse' as hunters kill off prized animals with the biggest antlers and pelts" - Newsweek (magazine issue dated 12 Jan. 2009); available: http://www.newsweek.com/id/177709 or in a one-page, printable format at http://www.newsweek.com/id/177709/output/print.

References last visited 2 November 2009.

Comments

I live in Jefferson county, Alabama. For the past few years there has been a "hunting club" in front of my property and they have been disposing of the deer carcasses alongside of the road. They strip off the fur, take parts of the meat, sometimes the head and leave the rest of the deer to rot on the side of the road. Our road is not heavily populated, but there are school buses that travel this road every day with young children that have to witness this form of animal cruelty. I have contacted the local law enforcement, but they say nothing can be done unless we can catch the criminals in the act, and prove who is slaughtering these deer. What can I do to stop this abuse? Please help!

I'm so sorry you have to go through that Kaye. It's horrible!! Those poor deer.

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